Skip navigation

Category Archives: First week of Ulpan (Hebrew)

So I wanted to consider several aspects of the same issue in this post, and as the title suggests, that subject is security (a nebulous word, indeed).

I am personally fairly opposed to any sense of security in the TSA sense – practices and methods that are at the same time invasive, unnecessary, probably un-Constitutional, and accident-prone (things getting broken, people being grievously delayed, etc). At the same time, however, the state of Israel has an entirely different set of issues facing their security forces. One specific anecdote that is close to home (Hebrew University’s campus) kind of shocked me. As most Americans, I was constantly feeling a strong sense of annoyance that each and every time I went into any compound owned by HU, I had to present my ID as well as my backpack for searching to the guards present.

My perception shifted slightly yesterday, however, as I went on one of my self-initiated, self-guided figure out the odd campus layout walks. As I approached the Mexican building (here’s an odd detail – everything, and I mean EVERYTHING on the HU campus was sponsored or fundraised by some international Jewish group, and as such their names are featured on their respective projects), I came into a small plaza in front of a cafe. Deciding to enjoy it, I sat down on one of the walls around a fountain and noticed that the facade of the low stone wall in front of me had tablets with Hebraic and English writing on them. Both said essentially the same thing: “this plaza is dedicated to these 6 students, who died here in a terrorist attack during 2002.”

This is definitely the sort of find that stops a person in their tracks, and it really got me to thinking. This is almost exactly the same as how the TSA functions: an awful tragedy or near tragedy (such as the failed liquid bombs in the shoes), and the TSA responds by implementing new security measures that are very problematic and always remind everyone of the fairly few and far between issues of terrorism. In Israel, however, there is arguably more cause to have such measures. I don’t entirely think I agree with the policy still, but everyone is entitled to their opinion.

On a lighter note, and to point out the craziness of trying to be 100% secure at all times, DC has a striking parallel with Jerusalem that one wouldn’t expect. Whereas DC is chock full of rats (something that not everyone is aware of, and no pun or metaphorical political meaning intended), Jerusalem is fill to the very brim with… cats. In fact, its as if the two cities should really start an import/export business to even things out. But, the point is, these cats get anywhere and everywhere, including into dorm buildings and they can always be found tearing up/through garbage bags, and generally making a huge nuisance of themselves. This serves to illustrate that as in control as the security guards like to try and be, there is always a significant number of variables that they cannot even begin to control.

Another concise example of the overdone nature of Israeli “security” is El Al: nothing more need be said, given my previous posts.

While we’re on the subject, and since I am genuinely curious, here is a poll for you, my readers:

So I had what is likely to be the least successful trip to a grocery store in my life two days ago.

I finished up with Hebrew for the day, relaxed a little bit and shook my head to dump out all the extra Aleph and Yod characters from class, and took my backpack to walk over to the Mister Zod grocery store. I figured “oh, I’ll stop at the bank on the way there to get shekelim – it is directly before the grocery on my path.”

I figured very, very wrong.

The machine said very clearly in English “This ATM can give a cash return for customers with a credit card” (i.e. me). I therefore put my card in, waited a moment, and was given the card back sans shekelim. I tried a second time, and that was a very significant mistake. It took the card in, whirred and made some worrying noises for a prolonged period of time, and then the screen changed completely. It started flashing “Temporarily out of order” in English and Hebrew. And it had swallowed my poor, poor credit card whole 😦

Needless to say, I was slightly concerned. I called one of the Madrachim (a sort of RA analogue, except they are in charge of making sure we are having fun/settling in properly rather than following any rules). Rotem answered the phone, and suggested I call my bank in the US (the number for which is on the back of my credit card, now “safely” deposited in the machine). Eli, another Madrach, told me to look on the ATM for a number to call – I looked, found it, and called. The mostly Hebrew-speaking individuals on the other end of the line suggested I call my home bank as well, and, with the evidence piling up, I came back to my room and called my dad to get the number.

I called their international number, and got everything set up for them to send me a new card in 3-4 business days which actually means a week. An Israeli oddity became apparent during this process – my mailing address doesn’t have any street name within it, and it has a compound city – “Mount Scopus, Jerusalem.”

I went back yesterday, and had to do the bureaucratic dance of: 1) which employee looks like they speak enough English to help me; 2) which employee ACTUALLY speaks enough English to help me; 3) which employee are they going to refer me to; 4) oops, they pointed to the wrong one, because I need to talk to Sarah; 5) wait in line; 6) wait for her to finish her conversation with the Brinks Security people (wasn’t excepting to see them there, delivering money from an armored car); and finally 7) have her take apart the machine and pull out the mangle remains of my poor, poor Visa. This 50-minute long pursuit made me miss a fair amount of Hebrew for the day, but c’est la vie, je suppose.

To use a bit of ASCII art, here is approximately what the thin side of the credit card now looks like:

________/ \___

I am not sure what sort of mechanical gears, large cutting devices, or small malevolent ATM gnomes they store in that machine, but my Visa of 4 continents now (US, Europe, Africa, and Asia) has finally been sent to the Old Visa Veteran’s Home. May God have mercy on it’s soul, because the ATM certainly did not.

So after getting used to Gillie, the Hebrew teacher, for the first two days, the third day threw an additional level of complexity at us. Beyond just having class in a different room every day, at different times every day, we now had a second teacher to learn from as well, giving us 2 different accents to try and emulate (not that much of a difference), and not 2 but 4 sets of handwriting to learn (they each have distinctive ways of doing the formal and cursive characters). That was a surmountable obstacle – more nuanced of an encounter was our 45 minute-long Hebrew song lesson. We (the Aleph level classes) filed into an auditorium with a piano and were promptly spoken at (not to) by an Israeli music teacher who refused/was unable speak anything but rapid-fire Hebrew. Now, the songs were all in Hebrew (as expected), but when the page numbers and titles of the songs were quickly read in between details of the composer’s background [again, all in rapid Hebrew], it can make for difficulty understanding what is being said. Nevertheless, the auditorium was filled with passable Hebrew singing at the end (it also helped that all of the songs were transliterated, meaning written into phonetic English pseudo-words).

And, on an entirely different note, it turns out that the delicious breakfast salad common in Israel (diced tomatoes, cucumbers, and some lettuce) doSo after getting used to Gillie, the Hebrew teacher, for the first two days, the third day threw an additional level of complexity at us. Beyond just having class in a different room every day, at different times every day, we now had a second teacher to learn from as well, giving us 2 different accents to try and emulate (not that much of a difference), and not 2 but 4 sets of handwriting to learn (they each have distinctive ways of doing the formal and cursive characters). That was a surmountable obstacle – more nuanced of an encounter was our 45 minute-long Hebrew song lesson. We (the Aleph level classes) filed into an auditorium with a piano and were promptly spoken at (not to) by an Israeli music teacher who refused/was unable speak anything but rapid-fire Hebrew. Now, the songs were all in Hebrew (as expected), but when the page numbers and titles of the songs were quickly read in between details of the composer’s background [again, all in rapid Hebrew], it can make for difficulty understanding what is being said. Nevertheless, the auditorium was filled with passable Hebrew singing at the end (it also helped that all of the songs were transliterated, meaning written into phonetic English pseudo-words).

On an entirely different note, it turns out that the delicious breakfast salad common in Israel (diced tomatoes, cucumbers, and some lettuce) doesn’t keep at all – my lunch today was going to be the leftovers from breakfast a few days ago, but it turned into mush 😦

To keep up to date, I called El Al about my possessions again yesterday. I spoke to a lady named Anat, and after some discussion it became apparent that whomever I spoke to last week on the phone failed to register any of my information in a case file for nearly a week. Again, a huge sign that the money I paid for their flight wasn’t worth it by a lot. Anat, however, was very helpful indeed. She got all of my information, made sure to call me back within 3 hours to let me know that it had been properly logged into their system, that the bar code number on my receipt sticker hadn’t entered the system yet, and that she would be sure to tell the night shift to call El Al in Newark directly to inquire as to the standing of my items. We shall see how this turns out, but optimistically, it gives me more time to go scout out places around the city to go take photographs at later.

Yesterday evening, I attended the first meeting of Beit Madrash – a sort of theological discussion of Judaism at the synagogue with dinner. It ended up being a presentation by a rabbi of several Rabbinic interpretations of the Bible that are overtly strongly in favor of Zionist policies (basically, moving as many of the Jewish people into Israel as possible). Rather than a lecture where he presented what he held as fact, he gave us the texts and let us read and discuss them in small groups, followed by a large group debate/argument. It was a very enjoyable evening, and I look forward to attending Beit Madrash more in the future (what better place to brush up on my slim Jewish theological knowledge than here?).

Finally, this morning, I managed to figure out that there IS one way for me to stand out more than I do while wearing shorts in the winter at home (DC or Cleveland). At home, while there are some other people who do wear shorts all the time, we still get odd looks from people. Here in Jerusalem, however, things are slightly different. This morning, I got up at 5:45 and got dressed to go to the Lerner gym – gym shorts and tee shirt only. I didn’t realize it upon waking up, but it was actually quite chilly this morning – every Israeli I saw was wearing a heavy winter coat and a hat, and in many cases, gloves and scarves. Needless to say, I didn’t only get some odd looks, I got a few people who openly gaped at my choice of attire. Admittedly, it was probably in the 40’s F, because my arms were fairly reddish upon getting to the gym. Nevertheless, I have decided to go buy a sweatshirt later today and wear that to the gym on future mornings. Even though that’s my plan, I guarantee you the morning guard for the Reznik dorm gate will remember me in the future – upon returning, I forgot that here at HU the gym ID is different than my student ID, but the guard didn’t care (very unusual, because it has been my experience that they adamantly require students to have a student ID in order to get it). Maybe with my sweatshirt I’ll stick out less.

For those who are so interested, I hope you enjoy the inauguration today – I look forward to watching it with a bunch of Israelis and see their reactions/listen to their commentary.

So having spent a long day exploring the city yesterday, I spent today taking care of academic concerns. Specifically, I got to go to the first day of Hebrew classes for those students in level Aleph (the beginning level, as aleph is the first character in the Hebraic alphabet). This was quite the entertaining, uh, ‘immersion experience’ – the teacher came into the room speaking almost exclusively Hebrew, and thus set the tone for the morning. We learned mostly by repetition – she would point to herself and say “ani Gillie” multiple times, and then point to someone in the class until we caught on that she was saying “I am Gillie.”

We learned the first several characters in both the formal and informal Hebraic alphabet, and then started to learn that in very few cases (if any) do vowels actually show up in the words. That, combined with writing right-to-left and having to keep track of different pronunciations made for a complex morning of language to mark the first day of classes.

** EDIT **

It turns out the portion of Ulpan that is most difficult to adjust to for me is writing in the Hebrew notebooks… I can’t deal with the spiral spine on the other side. (end the the edited portion)

Other than that, I got dunked into the famed sea of Israeli bureaucracy yet again. The gym next door to my dormitory complex is affiliated with the school, and so we were supposed to get a special price for a membership during the duration of our semester here. After a bunch of discussion and even some arguing, the following became clear: 1) the sheet from HU with the deal offered to us was at least 3 years out of date; 2) the price they wanted to offer was almost the same as paying the monthly rate, making it nothing at all like a deal; and 3) I ended up essentially haggling for the [fairly good] price that is now being offered to abroad students at HU. Not too bad for a day’s work.

Enjoy the first day of the American/Western work week tomorrow.